Trainer Ignacio Correas IV didn't start out pursuing the American Dream. Neither did last Saturday's Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap winner, Blue Prize. They both earned their stripes in Argentina before making the move to the United States, where each would have to carve out a new beginning.
“I really never thought I would end up in the United States,” said Correas, 58. “Now I have good horses and good owners, and I'm living where I want to live… Life takes you where it takes you.”
His family members have been involved with Thoroughbred horses since 1872 and became major players in the breeding and ownership circles of their native Argentina. As a young man Correas dreamed of being a jockey but quickly outgrew those aspirations and began working on the family farm.
From there, Correas' education included stints at Brazil's Haras Santa Maria de Araras, the French barn of trainer Alec Head, grooming for the family's trainer in Argentina, and another trip to Europe under trainer David Smaga with his family-owned colt Campero. Correas galloped Campero for Smaga, and the colt won the Group 1 Premio Roma in 1982.
Two years later, Correas took out his trainer's license in Argentina. His stable grew quickly and was quite successful, but the state of the economy had the trainer reconsidering his options. In 2001, with the support of long-time family friend and Thoroughbred enthusiast Diane Perkins, Correas made the move to the United States.
Perkins, the proprietor of Wimborne Farm, helped Correas find a job with trainer Billy Badgett in New York. The transition from a stable of 40 top-caliber horses to working under someone else must have been difficult, and Correas moved on after just eight months. He was a veterinary assistant, a farm worker in Virginia, and then an assistant trainer in Lexington for a few months.
Correas spent the winter of 2003 and 2004 galloping, hauling horses, and freelancing where he could to make ends meet. Finally, all his hard work was noticed, and Correas was offered a job in Southern California for trainer Bill Curran, where he worked for the next 5 ½ years.
“Training horses is a life of learning,” Correas explained. “I always watch other trainers to see what they do and try to pick their brains when I can. You never know when you might see things you might use for later… We are all trying to get to the winner's circle, and there are so many ways to take you there, all of them respectable.”
A year-long foray to Louisiana working for Southern Equine led to a job offer from Sagamore Farm in Maryland, where Correas worked for the next several years.
In February of 2015, at age 56, Correas launched his North American training career with a single horse. Mrs. Perkins heard about her old friend's decision and popped over to Keeneland one afternoon looking to claim a horse for him to train. It was a $25,000 filly, and for the life of him Correas couldn't figure out why Perkins would want her.
“Diane is one of those persons that when you are in need, she shows up out of nowhere,” Correas said fondly. “I've been blessed to have her support me in good times and bad… when you least expect, she comes.”
It was Perkins who gave Correas his first “big horse” in America, an Argentinian-bred horse named Kasaqui. The son of Lasting Approval hadn't been particularly successful in Argentina, but in the summer of 2016, after coming to the U.S., he ran a very close second in the prestigious Arlington Million.
“I was very lucky to get two or three good horses right away,” said Correas, deferring his reputation as a top conditioner of Southern American imports. “The horses make the trainer.”
That reputation, however, has built Correas' shed row into a group of promising runners, Blue Prize among them. The 5-year-old mare by Pure Prize was a Group 1-winning sophomore in Argentina, but her extremely late-running style did not suit American dirt racing.
“She started getting better when we added blinkers and placed her closer to the pace,” explained the trainer. “It took her a couple of races to figure it out… you just don't make up 15 lengths in America on the dirt. It's not that I figure it out, it's just watching American racing.
“In Argentina, races aren't based on speed. The stretch is three-eighths of a mile long, so you can smoke two cigarettes and then send out your horse and get to the winner's circle.”
Blue Prize concluded her 2017 season with a graded stakes win at Churchill Downs and has now won two of her four starts in 2018. The Fleur de Lis is a “Win and You're In” for the Breeders' Cup Distaff, which will be run this fall beneath the Twin Spires. The mare has a proven affinity for the surface at Churchill, and the speed-laden distaff division could set up for a stalking-type runner in November's Championships.
That won't be Correas' only promising contender at the Breeders' Cup, however. The 4-year-old filly La Extrana Dama bested her male rivals by four lengths in the Gran Premio 25 de Mayo (G1) at San Isidro, earning an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Longines Turf, and she will join Correas' string at Keeneland at the end of June to begin preparing for her North American debut.
Another name to watch from the Correas stable is Love ‘n' Happiness, last year's champion 2-year-old in Brazil. The filly will run in an allowance on the dirt to kick off her sophomore season but should be more of a turf horse for Correas' newest owner, Team Valor International.
“It's nice to look at each morning, all these Group 1 winners under one roof,” Correas said. “The thing that makes special a trainer is their horses… At the end of the day, I never knew a good trainer with bad horses.”
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